Pitch­ing in the Promised Land: A Sto­ry of the First and Only Sea­son in the Israel Base­ball League

Aaron Prib­ble
  • Review
By – October 25, 2011
A pair of new books with vast­ly dif­fer­ing, yet enjoy­able styles, offer Jew­ish base­ball fans insights into the eso­teric top­ics of the Negro Leagues and Israel Base­ball League.

Rebec­ca T. Alpert writes of Jews’ involve­ment in the Negro Leagues from the 1930’s through the 1950’s in Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Base­ball. Alpert exam­ines three groups of Jews who remained out­siders, inti­mate­ly involved but nev­er belong­ing,” who nev­er­the­less had a pro­found influ­ence on black base­ball, both neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive.” 

These were the team own­ers and busi­ness man­agers; sports­writ­ers who advo­cat­ed for racial equal­i­ty in the Com­mu­nist news­pa­per, The Dai­ly Work­er, and the Belleville Grays, a team of Hebrew Israelites” (black Jews). 

Tim Wiles, the Nation­al Base­ball Hall of Fame & Museum’s direc­tor of research, says Out of Left Field is a work of high­ly orig­i­nal research.” Indeed, Alpert’s detail­ing of the Grays is a ground­break­ing effort. 

The Belleville Grays, the team own­er and play­ers, receive scant atten­tion in Leslie Heaphy’s The Negro Leagues, 1860 – 1960 and James A. Riley’s The Bio­graph­i­cal Ency­clo­pe­dia of the Negro Base­ball Leagues, two of the most detailed books on black base­ball. Like­wise, when Hea­phy and Riley do men­tion team own­ers Ed Got­tlieb, Syd Pol­lack, and Abe Sap­per­stein, the few para­graphs the authors spend on the sub­jects make no ref­er­ences to the men’s reli­gious affil­i­a­tions. 

Out of Left Field is writ­ten in a schol­ar­ly fash­ion. Heav­i­ly foot­not­ed, it offers an exten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy and pro­vides in-depth analy­sis of the com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry” of black-Jew­ish rela­tions, in addi­tion to dis­cussing black base­ball. 

Alpert’s book will like­ly appeal more to aca­d­e­mics and seri­ous base­ball his­to­ri­ans than casu­al fans. Despite the effort it may require, Out of Left Field is a both a wor­thy read and a valu­able addi­tion to the book­shelf of Negro League and Jew­ish base­ball fans. Aaron Pribble’s Pitch­ing in the Promised Land: A Sto­ry of the First and Only Sea­son in the Israel Base­ball League, is, con­verse­ly, a much eas­i­er read. 

Based on the jour­nals he kept dur­ing the Israel Base­ball League’s 2007, and only, sea­son, Prib­ble details his on-the-field exploits and his off-the-field adven­tures in alter­nat­ing chap­ters. 

As seem­ing­ly all base­ball mem­oirs do, Pribble’s sto­ry is heavy on game details, uses salty lan­guage, and describes the sex­u­al con­quests and drink­ing habits of play­ers. At times this seems exces­sive. 

Pitch­ing in the Promised Land is, how­ev­er, more than a sim­ple base­ball diary. Prib­ble is both a crafty pitch­er and author, and he does a nice job chang­ing speeds. The book capa­bly mix­es Pribble’s recaps of base­ball games with his chang­ing views on Mid­dle East pol­i­tics, mem­o­ries of a brief but intense romance with a Yemenite Jew, and the gen­er­al absur­di­ty of play­ing base­ball in Israel in a fal­ter­ing league. 

Per­haps, most inter­est­ing­ly, Prib­ble also offers a touch­ing first-per­son account of how a pecu­liar sea­son, a once-in-a-life­time sum­mer” shaped and solid­i­fied his own Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. 

With a writ­ing style that is approach­able, warm, effec­tive, and engross­ing, Pitch­ing in the Promised Land will like­ly appeal to both Jew­ish seam­heads and casu­al fans.

Addi­tion­al books fea­tured in this review:

Joshua Platt, an avid base­ball fan and col­lec­tor of Jew­ish base­ball autographs,publishes www​.Jew​ish​Sports​Col​lectibles​.com.

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